The next in a series of posts looking at each position group on the Dallas Cowboys roster, and determining just how much of a priority it will be this offseason. (The links to the rest of the series at the bottom)
Position Group - Defensive end
The Dallas Cowboys finally found Jerry Jones’ “war daddy” in the form of DeMarcus Lawrence. Now he’s a free agent, and while his breakout year was a welcome site, the Cowboys still have questions beyond Lawrence. In today’s NFL, you have to be able to rush the passer and the Cowboys still need to prove they are capable of that going forward.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Randy Gregory
DeMarcus Lawrence - It finally happened. The Cowboys finally found someone to wreak havoc on the opposing QB for the first time since DeMarcus Ware left. But questions still linger about Lawrence. His 14.5 sacks proved he could do it once, but can he do it consistently. Injuries and a suspension have kept Lawrence from being a consistent performer, so while fans would like to believe that 14.5 sacks is what he’ll be going forward, he still has to prove it.
To complicate matters, Lawrence is a free agent. The Cowboys will start talking to his agent about a new deal in the next couple of weeks, but you can bet he’s not going to leave Dallas. A long-term contract is preferable, but if nothing else the Cowboys will tag him for next season. Lawrence will be the starting left defensive end in 2018, but who will join him on the right side?
Tyrone Crawford - He’s been a versatile piece along the Cowboys defensive line, but he’s never broken out in the way the Cowboys had hoped when they signed to him a fat contract extension. Last year he settled in as a defensive end and played solid, but not up to his contract numbers, and not up to the level the Cowboys need if they are going to have a pass rush that is truly feared.
The Cowboys are a year away from being able to potentially walk away from Crawford’s contract, so he’ll be back in some role in 2018. They need more from Crawford, his four sacks from the right side just aren’t enough to justify the cap hit, and he could lose playing time to some younger players.
Taco Charlton - Certainly one of the most controversial first-round picks in recent history for Dallas, Charlton struggled for a good portion of the season. He appeared overwhelmed by the pro game, and unable to adjust when his favorite spin move failed. Fortunately, in the last month of the season, his play picked up and you could see some potential for 2018.
Charlton has to master the art of hand-fighting, because he doesn’t have the speed or bend to get around the edge. What he does have is size, power and athleticism, so if he can master hand-fighting and a couple of counter-moves besides the spin, it’s possible we’ll see a different player in 2018. He was a late-bloomer at Michigan, maybe he’ll be the same in Dallas.
Benson Mayowa - The Cowboys thought they had stuck gold in the bargain-bin when free agent signee Mayowa put up six sacks in 2016. He wasn’t able to follow that up in 2017 and now you have to wonder if he has a future on this team. He’ll have competition internally, and he’ll likely have some from a draft pick or free agent to come. His contract allows the Cowboys to release him this year without much damage, he’s fighting an uphill battle.
Charles Tapper - Tapper has explosive athletic abilities, we just haven’t been able to see them. He’s played in two games in two years because of injuries, so 2018 is going to be his year to prove he belongs. He has the skills needed, but can he put them to use and stay healthy?
Randy Gregory - The true wild card in the bunch - we just don’t know. If he plays, he could be a true force, but he may not even play. It’s impossible to count on him.
Offseason Priority - Medium
As long as DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed and keeps his form, the Cowboys will have some semblance of a pass rush. They have a dependable piece in Crawford, but could really use a boost from someone like Charlton or Tapper. They could also use some versatile players like David Irving or Datone Jones on the outside in some situations, depending on what happens at defensive tackle.
The Cowboys should add a player or two here, but they don’t need to spend a first-round pick, unless a player they really covet falls to them. They also don’t need to break the bank in free agency, not that they would anyway. Their improvement will likely come from within unless a player falls to them in the draft.